Like most kids growing up, at times I remember being pretty scared of the dark. It's a fear which everyone can relate to—that feeling of helplessness where you know you're unable to fully comprehend and interact with your surroundings.
Growing up as a Christian, I recall a similar kind of fear when encountering other religions. When you're raised in a Christian theological bubble other religions can seem intimidating. Learning about other belief systems, that come to entirely different conclusions about the purpose and meaning of life, can make you question your own beliefs.
Religions such as Islam and Buddhism, and philosophies based on atheistic principles, contradict many of the central tenets of Christian belief. When confronted by the challenges posed by other systems of belief, there are two main ways to respond.
One way is to respond is to stay in the bubble, double-down on your Christian readings, and just ignore the other competing résumés in the marketplace of ideas.
Now while is there nothing specifically wrong with this, it can prove to be a drawback when you're talking and interacting with people outside of your own Christian sphere.
The other option is to take the plunge and actually explore what it is that makes other religions and philosophies tick.
Case study: the Qur'an
In this spirit of intellectual inquiry, in the last month I have been going through the process of re-reading the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam.
In Islamic theology, the Qur'an is not a stand-alone book. While it is regarded as the literal words of God (Allah) and considered to be the final revelation of God to mankind, it positions itself as the successor to the Torah (Old Testament) and the Evangel (New Testament).
Given the claims of Islamic theology, the Qur'an has quite a tricky task to complete. While retaining harmony with the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, it still needs to explain why its own message is considerably different from those books.
For Jews, it needs to explain why salvation comes from the Arabs (through the prophet Muhammad) and why the people of God are now contained within the Islamic umma (religious community), rather than the Jewish nation.
For Christians, it needs to reconcile the fact that Jesus was a prophet and the gospel the word of God, with the claim that Jesus never died, was crucified, or raised from the dead.
Without reading the Qur'an and examining Muhammad's claims as a prophet, there is no real way to conclusively refute (or accept) its assertions.
From a thorough reading of the Qur'an though, I remain sceptical of the evidence supporting its grandiose claims. There is no serious engagement with the evidence for Jesus being the Messiah, while some Christian doctrines appear to be completely misunderstood.
In Surah 5:116, the concept of the trinity seems to be understood as three individual gods: God the father, Jesus, and Mary—a bizarre concept with no real precedent in Christian history.
Flipping the switch
I know from my own perspective, often my fears about other religions stemmed from the fact I knew nothing about them.
Like someone stumbling around in the dark, I couldn't properly engage with them or see them for what they were.
However, by actually going out and exploring other belief systems and ways of viewing the world, it helped me better understand and cherish my own faith.
By switching on the lights to see how other religions work, I gained a better perspective on my own beliefs.
If we claim to be Christians, we should never be afraid of exploring other belief systems. Ultimately, Christians believe on the basis that what has been revealed in the Bible is the truth, not on a blind unquestioning faith.
Because of this, we should stand confident in what we believe. If what we believe in Scripture is indeed the truth, then we should be able to trust that it can stand up to scrutiny and challenge.
Tim Newman lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. He holds an MA in History (focussing on attitudes towards warfare in Islam and Christianity).
Tim Newman's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-newman.html